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Bringing Shows to Life in Melrose for Three Decades

It is an early rehearsal for the Town and Country Player’s new musical on the life of Johnny Cash. Director Marit Elliott moves from one group of actors to another; guiding, encouraging, singing along. At home amidst the bustling activity, comfortable with the security that 30 years of bringing new shows to life brings.     One thing I notice is the lack of criticism, “Most people know when they don’t sound good,” Marit said, “or they know when they don’t know it. So they are harder, usually, on themselves than any director. I mean I’ve had directors who said ‘that’s really awful,’ you know, you go home crying.” Marit shook her head, “I don’t want to do that to anybody.”     Marit originally came to the Melrose schools in 1971, where she has taught English, speech, film, and journalism for nearly 40 years. She was instrumental in starting the Sauk River Players, which performs the summer musicals, beginning with the Broadway musical ‘Carousel’ in 1980.     This spring she is particularly pleased with the musical on the life of Johnny Cash. “I think I really like doing plays about real people,” she said, “the music that came out of him was about him, about his life. Marit has had many experiences directing plays over the past 30 years. For example, one time an actor broke his leg during a show, and another time she found out 30 minutes before the show that the pianist wasn’t coming, and Marit had to step in and play for the show.     “Luckily, I had played a lot of that show,” Marit chuckled, “I usually learn the show so that I can take someone to learn their solo.”        Her favorite memories, however, are not of the performances: “The most fun memories I have are dress rehearsals, because pretty much everybody knows what they’re doing. The costumes, you know, are going to look great. The sets are going to be moved at the right time, the microphones are on, the lighting is set, and it’s sort of like everything that you’ve worked on for about six weeks starts coming together.”     Also, “I love to start. I love to cast the play.” Marit remarks, “I love to get everybody familiar with the music, and then I have to kick myself and, OK, now what?”     Her biggest supporters and source of joy has been her family. She especially enjoyed having her daughters Karn, 33, and Katie, 25, in her musicals, and in going to sporting events cheering on her sons Adam, 23, and Blake, 29.     Her oldest son Blake won honors as NCAA Division III football player of the year when he led St. John’s to the national title, (and went on to have a brief stay with the Minnesota Vikings), but as he found public speaking more frightening than linebackers, he would not go on the stage to try theatre.       He once told Marit that, ‘I would rather go and run and catch a ball in front of 50,000 people, than to stand up and say anything out loud.’     Adam, who was learning guitar, might have performed with her, but, at 16, he suffered devastating injuries in a car crash. The next 33 days he lay in a coma near death with family members staying at his side. Every night, at least one of Adam’s siblings, Marit, or her husband David, would stay all night in his room.     Later, after five months in Twin Cities hospitals, Adam was finally able to be moved to a nursing home in Sartell, where he would stay for the next 18 months. Each day one of his parents would be at his side.     “David stayed there from Sunday night to Thursday night, and then I would stay from Thursday night till Monday night. So we sort of tag-teamed,” Marit remembered, “but then David developed cancer and was too sick to stay with him. So at that point we said, you know, I think we need to bring Adam home.     Sadly, David would die less than a year later, in early January, 2006. Marit continues to look after Adam, with help from her friends, many from her theatre community.     In fact, Marit’s life outside her family and classroom revolves around the theatre. It is the theatre that is her hobby, her escape, her social life, her source for renewed strength, and, in many ways, serves as her extended family. “Basically my social network besides school, are the people that are in the plays,” Marit says, “that are the people that are my friends.”      Indeed, directing the plays seems to inspire Marit rather than tire her. When asked how long it takes for her to recover after a show, Marit laughs, “I think I’m ready to do the next play right away!”     Adam also provides inspiration. “The best thing about Adam is that he is so positive,” she marvels, “the things that come out of his mouth are always positive; so how can you be crabby?”     Another major part of her life is music. “My mom was a singer too, but she died when I was eight,” Marit remembered, “but she was always singing all the time.” Later, Marit would major in music at University, and her brother, Lee Roisum, would become an operatic singer. Still today Marit says, “I use music almost every day.”     This was especially important in Adam’s recovery. At first Adam was unable to speak after his accident, Marit related. “We started singing this musical stuff, ‘You are my sunshine’, we’re singing, and then he started to kind of sing.”       Now, still recovering from a severe brain injury, Adam has trouble learning new information, but he can still learn new songs.     Marit would often play and sing at the Country Manor when Adam was there, going through whole song books. “The brain is very complex,” Marit mused, “It really makes me wonder, and yet if you go into a nursing home, one thing they all share is some sort of music. It never leaves you.”     Finally, she really appreciates the support her school and community bring to the Sauk River Players. She emphasizes, “It is called community theatre and it really takes a community.”

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